film reel image

film reel image

Saturday, May 4, 2024

American Murder: The Family Next Door 2020 * * * Stars


"I tortured him, I rejected him". Yeah but does that mean you have to perish at the age of 34.

Anyway, some people (like myself) don't remember the Watts family murders that made national attention back in 2018. Taking place in Frederick, Colorado amidst the mountainous mold of suburban Mayberry, you have oil field operator Christopher Watts killing his pregnant wife Shannan along with their two young daughters by way of smothering and/or strangulation. Ugh. The Watts account is told in a rather expedient and totally revamped method via 2020's American Murder: The Family Next Door

"American Murder", well it's a streamlined documentary that apes stuff like 48 Hours, Forensic Files, and Dateline. Why? Because it can I suppose and well, everyone's a sucker for enthralling legal shows of the gruesome crime order. The only difference though, is that American Murder: The Family Next Door schleps the TV feel for coarse language, restrained use of the interview, and a little texting, innuendo. It also projects its events as convenient, sort of pristine reenactments that allow the film to almost play out like raw fiction (even if it's obviously non-fiction). I mean it's like director Jenny Popplewell is psychic, using restored, matter of fact archive footage and exact two ticks that trump the baseline of effective timelines. "We're not promised tomorrow". True-dat. 

Now did I like "American Murder" for its slow-building craft, riffing off the annals of all things Howard Stringer and manifest, mystery screenlife? Of course I did. I mean everyone tries to look away from a car wreck but hey, we all want to see a mild-mannered man turned calculated slayer get what he deserves. And does American Murder: The Family Next Door feel like it's playing its own imitation game as it tries mightily not to offend good old Keith Morrison? I suppose. But hey as they say, one "door" closes and another one opens. Natch. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

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